The theme of the tough economic climate will be reflected by the EU’s finance ministers next week, when they will tell the European Commission to draft a budget for 2012 that reflects the situation across the member states.
Finance ministers will approve conclusions at their meeting on 15 February urging that the Commission “takes into account economic and budgetary restraints at national level” and reflects consolidation efforts by member states to reduce debt and deficit levels. The conclusions do not contain a precise figure for the size of the 2012 budget, but are designed to send a clear message to the Commission not to propose a large increase in next year’s budget.
The Commission is in a difficult position because 2012 is the penultimate year of the financing period 2007-13, and spending tends to rise towards the end of a budgeting period as work on large infrastructure projects nears completion.
A spokesman for Janusz Lewandowksi, the European commissioner for financial programming and budget, said that member states’ demands for funding from the EU budget were bound to increase next year. “In the last two years of the budget period the bills arrive on the Commission’s desk. We will have to pay those bills.”
The spokesman said it was normal for parties to state their views ahead of negotiations, and he played down the idea of disagreement between national governments and the Commission. “They [ministers] seem to be saying something we have been saying for a long time. Lewandowski is completely committed to finding a budget focused on the priorities of citizens and member states.”
The conclusions to be adopted by finance ministers also stress concern at the high level of unspent funds, which reached €194 billion at the end of the year.
Officials partly blame decisions taken by member states not to go ahead with projects that had been approved, and for which the EU had set aside finance under the regional development policy.
Member states had either decided they could not afford to co-finance projects, or that they were not a high enough priority.
Lewandowski’s spokesman underlined that while the Commission was examining the volume of unspent funds, this money is not lost if it is not spent. “The surplus at the end of the year goes back to member states. It is not wasted money,” he said.
The Commission will produce a draft budget for 2012 at the end of April. Last year the Commission proposed an increase of 2.9% in the 2011 budget compared to the previous year.
Despite the UK and the Netherlands calling for the 2011 budget to be frozen at the 2010 level, national governments agreed to increase it by 2.9%, in line with the Commission’s original proposal.
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